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Friday, November 28, 2008

Champions of status quo

The Nation
The whips lashed down amid screams of pain as one after another pair of men went thumping down into the aisle ways. Kunta and his shaklemate hugged each other on the shelf as the searing blows jerked them convulsively back and forth. Then hands clamped roughly around their ankles and hauled them across the shelf's mushy filth and into the tangle of other men in the aisle way, all of them howling under the toubob whips.
These lines are from Alex Haley's epoch-making novel, Roots which is not based just on fiction. Haley researched for twelve long years, and travelled, from continent to continent, to write this book. There were long queues of people, both white and black, in front of bookshops when the novel was released in mid seventies. The book containing sage of a black American family, was translated into 37 languages. The author traced his origin back to Gambia's Kunta Kinte who was captured by slave traders in 1767 and was brought, across Atlantic, in one of the ships especially designed for transporting slaves.
The USA has come a long way from counting teeth, and jotting down weight, of black slaves to electing Obama as its first black president. In between these two extremes lies a journey marked by turning points some of which are remembered as watersheds in United States history. The country, where African slaves had price tags attached with their bodies, outlawed importation of slaves in 1808. Another half century was to go down in history till the last ship, bringing the fettered blacks, touched the shores of United States. Six years later the historic Thirteenth Amendment in the constitution abolished slavery.

This brief chronology makes one thing clear: the process of change continued tardily but steadily. It is the change, the continuous change, in American society which has elevated the vomiting shackled black, out of ship dungeon, to the white House.
Some of the prominent figures in different walks of life in Pakistan, including politicians, religious leaders and columnists, have been, since Obama's victory, expressing hope that brighter days are ahead for Pakistan. One can only take pity on this generosity of thought. It can be termed as naivety or complacency as well. The irony is that it is the "change" which has been the most extraterrestrial to Pakistani society since birth of the country.
Take for example, the evil of hereditary politics. Essentially, a legacy of Unionists, hereditary politics has been, all along, plaguing our political milieu. Whether it is People's Party , ANP , JUP or JUI, it is all within the family. Jamaat-i-Islami too, which so far has been clean at least in this context, it appears, is preparing to jump on the bandwagon by nominating ladies from the families of the leaders for Parliament . As far as Muslim League is concerned, it is nothing but a mosaic made by inlaying pieces of hereditary politics. A substantial number of Muslim League members have been, since long, inheriting the elected positions. The situation in Azad Kashmir is not enviable either.
However it will not be judicious to blame only politicians. Even the mosques, shrines and seminaries, where profound scholarly knowledge and piety should have been the only touchstone, have since long, become nucleus of hereditary endowment. Even mosques and seminaries are being inherited generation after generation.
Change is alien for us in every walk of life. We are maintaining the land ownership pattern meticulously intact the way we found it in the morning of August 14, 1947. In the next door Indian Punjab, the ownership ceiling of agricultural land is thirty acres and this Punjab (smaller in area than ours) is turning out to be food basket for the whole of India. The notorious sardari system is holding out in Balochistan and there is no likelihood of its liquidation in the foreseeable future.
The most decayed is the education sector. Successive education policies, heralded with lot of cheap and pretentious display, causing heavy jolts to exchequer, never brought any meaningful change in the system. Various parallel education systems are functioning simultaneously in complete isolation to each other.
Government-run institutions are enduring in roofless buildings with the facilities as modern as of Gothic days. Students are bringing jute-sacks from their homes to squat on and this can be seen in the in the villages located around the capital, not to speak of far-flung areas.
The tragic paradox is that secretaries and ministers of education, in federation as well as provinces, who are having nice time on pretext of "governing" these institutions, never send their children to them!
Didn't you hear about the restaurant where a customer called for the manager to protest for poor quality of meal and he was told that the manager was out to another restaurant to have a safer lunch! As for as seminaries are concerned, the centuries old syllabi are being taught with complete oblivion to what has been, and is, happening around.
Obama will do nothing for Pakistan. If some good comes about, it will be by default and not by design. The only blessing Obama's victory can bring us is the lesson of change provided we are inclined to learn this lesson.

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